Until recently, I lived in Rome, where “winter” is something of a theoretical concept. Everyone’s heard of it, sure, but they don’t really understand what it really means. The minute the temperature creeps below 10ºC, people appear in balaclavas, snow boots and full-length insulated jackets, presumably to cover up the inch-thick thermal onesie that they’re wearing underneath.
It made me soft. My hardy Irish blood grew accustomed to the sunshine, and even though I rode all year round, I can honestly say that – trips elsewhere excluded – I went years without getting wet on my bike. And I was never cold.
And then I moved back to Dublin, immediately realising that my bike wardrobe was totally unprepared. It’s not that it ever gets properly glacial here; the problem is that it doesn’t ever get hot, and you never – and I mean never – know what it’s going to be in a few hours’ time.
Adaptable is the name of the game. And it’s exactly how I’d describe Castelli’s Alpha Ros jacket, an all-weather marvel from the Italian brand that harnesses all the goodness of their game-changing Gabba and takes it up a notch. The result is a product that redefines the standard for winter kit.
It’s not waterproof, in the strict sense of the word, but it works flawlessly in the rain. And it’s super soft, fits brilliantly, and offers plenty of ventilation when you want it, so you’ll be happy to use it in blue sky conditions, too.
The prominent parts of the seams are sealed, and Gore’s new (brilliant) Windstopper membrane is rain-resistant, so while I still carry a light shell for torrential downpours, this is all you’ll need in typical wet conditions. The two-layer construction separates the outer shell from an insulation layer, both of which zip up separately. It looks funny at first, but it’s a nice option to have when you just need to let a little air in without freezing.
There’s a nice and high double collar, complete with soft lining, and the seamless cuffs are similarly soft, with a snug cut that slots in perfectly underneath gloves without bunching up and leaving any exposed spots. And on top of the traditional rear pockets, there’s a zipped one on the front, too. Most riders will be accustomed to having three pockets, so this extra one isn’t strictly necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch.
So, is it worth the $350 price tag? That depends on how much you like being warm and dry. For me, it’s a resounding yes. It’s not cheap, but the Alpha Ros is a cut above anything else I’ve tried and it makes most of the competition look seriously out of date. And alongside some cosy new gloves and shoe covers to match, it’s enough to get even me outside when there’s a gale blowing.